When same-sex attraction hits home: How families can help
NASHVILLE (BP) -- It's a moment many Christians have had to face: a family member's announcement that he or she is gay.
Amid feelings of sorrow, guilt, fear and anger that families may experience surrounding such an announcement, biblical counseling experts say believers must have hope and realize that Jesus always changes those who come to Him in repentance and faith.
The "lie" that "change is impossible" for people who experience same-sex attraction "is an offense against the Gospel because change is Jesus' gig," Heath Lambert, assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press. "We need to be infusing people with hope. We need to be infusing them with the deep conviction that Jesus has been changing people for 2,000 years and He will change you if you have faith in Him."
Lambert; John Babler, associate professor of counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Sam Williams, professor of counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested several ways Christians can help family members struggling with same-sex attraction.
Develop a culture of honesty where family members can confess their sins and ask for help.
"In view of the mercy of God, if there is a Gospel, it makes no sense to avoid, deny or minimize same-sex attraction," Williams, a member of the SBC Executive Committee's Mental Health Advisory Group, told BP in emailed comments. "I would like to propose that there is a properly Christian form of 'coming out of the closet.' Should we not all come out of the closet with anything we find inside that is broken and wrong? We do this so that we can repent more thoroughly, and receive all the help and healing that comes through authentic Christian relationships."
It's important for families not to act more "creeped out" by a confession of same-sex attraction than they are by confessions of other sins, Lambert said.
"Christians forget that sin is sin," he said. "We have to be really careful not to move someone beyond hope and beyond help or think that they have a higher 'ick' factor with their struggles than we do with ours."
Express love and explain that homosexual lust and behavior are sins.
Families must avoid the twin mistakes of either blowing up at a confession of same-sex attraction or avoiding conversation about the topic for fear of damaging relationships, the biblical counselors said.
A statement of unconditional love is a good starting point for any conversation about a family member's homosexuality, Babler told BP, but that must not be the only thing said.
"Say that homosexuality is clearly a sin issue, as the Bible teaches," Babler said, although it is not "some ultra-sin that is worse than anything else."
Speaking truth about homosexual sin is difficult, Babler conceded, but the consequences of being silent are far worse.
"Ultimately this loved one's eternal destiny may rest in" their family's willingness to confront sin, he said. "Even if they have made a profession of faith, they're at least blinded enough that they're not following godly counsel from Scripture."
Clarify that our identity is not determined by our sexual desires.
"We want to help people understand that while those same-sex desires -- just like opposite-sex desires -- can be strong, they don't define who you are," Lambert said. "God defines who you are, a person who's made in the image of God. And if you are a saved person, [you are] a person who is being redeemed into the image of Christ."
Babler noted that culture "frequently encourages people to find identity in something beyond themselves -- whether it's 'I'm gay' or it's 'I'm obsessive compulsive.'" But true identity "is in regards to being created in God's image and a person that God desires to have a relationship with."
Teach the Gospel truth that Jesus changes sinners.
"Real and substantive change can be expected for people with same-sex attraction and same-sex orientation, as it can and should be for all who have chosen to follow Christ," Williams said.
As with other sins though, God does not always change a believer's inclination to same-sex attraction overnight, Williams said. Much change involves "a long obedience of faith down a narrow and often difficult road."
"As it is with many root sins that are lodged deeply within us, change may or may not be associated with a complete elimination or reversal of same-sex attraction, for now," Williams said. "But make no mistake about it: under the cross and in Christ neither the past nor our desires determine our identity or our future. Paul's instruction in Romans 6 is to be who you are, in Christ."
Use the same ministry techniques you employ to help people struggling with other types of sin.
Accountability relationships with godly people of the same gender, confession of sins, trust in the Gospel, participation in a local church and meditation on Scripture all help individuals struggling with same-sex attraction, the biblical counselors agreed.
"As much of a problem as homosexuality is, it can be dealt with in the same way as if they had a family member who was dealing with heterosexual sin outside of a marriage relationship," Babler said. Ultimately a concerned family needs to "call their family member to the pages of Scripture."
It can be helpful to send a struggling individual brief Scripture messages through email and social media, Babler said. All of the Scripture shared should not focus on sexual sin but cover a variety of topics from God's character and the Gospel to the Great Commandment and personal purity.
Talk to a pastor or godly counselor if you find that helpful.
It's a myth that only professional counselors and clergy members are equipped to help people with same-sex attraction, Lambert said, although some biblical counselors and pastors can provide spiritual guidance.
"There are plenty of professionals who don't know how to appropriate the Gospel of Jesus in the change process," Lambert said. Such counselors "may have some helpful tips that somebody can use, but they're not going to be able to help someone change in a way that honors Jesus Christ."
The choice "isn't between a professional and a non-professional," he said. The key is to find a godly Christian "who knows the biblical dynamics of change and how Jesus uses His powerful grace in practical categories to see people be different than they were."
Even when families give the best help possible, the sad reality is that not all homosexuals repent and follow Jesus, the biblical counselors noted. Husbands sometimes leave their wives for other men. Wives sometimes leave their husbands for other women. And godly parents have children living a homosexual lifestyle.
In such cases, it's important for families not to blame themselves for their loved one's sin, Lambert said, adding that dealing with a homosexual spouse generally is more emotionally difficult than coping with a gay child or sibling.
"Sin doesn't happen in a simplistic way; it happens in a complex way. It could be the case that very faithful parents who love their kids and talk with them about the Gospel and were present with them and directed their behaviors and interests toward gender-appropriate things" still have a homosexual child, Lambert said. "In a world full of sin, people go off the rails and parents need to not have an instinct of blaming themselves."
Whatever the outcome of a family's ministry efforts, they must hold to God's truth and not let the experience of having a homosexual loved one distort their interpretation of God's Word, Babler said.
"One of my concerns in working with family members is that I want to encourage them to keep their theology and their biblical belief intact," Babler said, "and not accommodate due to the fact that it's one of their loved ones and say, 'Now I'm going to change the way I look at the Bible and I'm going to redefine my conclusion about what Scripture says in regards to homosexuality.' That's a big temptation."
Additional resources for families of those struggling with same-sex attraction include the Restored Hope Network, a group of ministries that address sexual and relational issues, and the books "Understanding Sexual Identity" by Mark Yarhouse and "Is God Anti-Gay" by Sam Allberry.
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).